Rocky students learn to think big in negotiation class


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Rocky Mountain College professor Art Lusse, second from right, stands with five students from his upper-division negotiation class. They are, from left, Ross Bunn, Andrija Vukovic, Tymber MacKenzie, Sara Gussenhoven and Courtland Carroll.

It took some time, but the 20-some students in an upper-division negotiation class at Rocky Mountain College recently came to an agreement under which North Korea will give up all its nuclear weapons.

Better yet, the international community agreed at the last minute that universal nuclear disarmament was a good idea, too, so all nations will eliminate their stocks of nuclear weapons within 10 years.

It was all in theory only, unfortunately, part of a class project, but some members of the class believe universal denuclearization is an idea whose time will come.

“I think it’s possible, but not now,” Andrija Vukovic said.

“I want to say it will be talked about in the next 50 years,” Ross Bunn said.

“People really need to start listening, though,” Sara Gussenhoven said.

The negotiation class is taught by Art Lusse, a former lawyer, law school professor and now a teacher at Rocky, where he is also the ombud, charged with trying to resolve intra-campus disputes between students, teachers, staff and administrators, or between any combination of those groups.

For Lusse’s upper-division negotiation class, students have a textbook and learn various forms of negotiation as they apply to interpersonal relations, business-to-business dealings and country-to-country exchanges.

Their one big project this semester, assigned by Lusse, was to seek a solution to the crisis that has been very much in the news this fall: what to do about North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.

For the project, the students broke into three groups, representing North Korea, the United States and the United Nations, including members of the U.N.’s permanent security council, so that the U.N. delegates could speak on behalf of the entire international community.

Using worksheets developed at Harvard University, the students first worked through all the basics, identifying who the various parties were, what issues needed to be dealt with and what the alternatives were from each party’s perspective.

On the worksheets, they also wrote down what they hoped to accomplish under headings like “Legitimacy,” “Communication,” Relationship” and “Commitment.”
Five students — two representing North Korea, two the U.N. and two the United States, sat down with your Last Best News correspondent to describe the process and the outcome.

They said the whole process took up 10 class periods of 75 minutes each, with the three groups meeting separately at first, then meeting with one or both of the other parties to begin working out the details of an agreement.

Tymber Mackenzie, one of the U.N. representatives, said the two students representing North Korea, Vukovic and Courtland Carroll, did well at staying true to the mindset of the people they were supposed to represent.

“Even though we all live in the United States now, they did a really good job of portraying North Korea,” she said.

Bunn, another U.N. representative, said an important negotiating tool was learning to “separate the people from the problems,” trying to get at the underlying goals and concerns of the parties without getting hung up on personalities.

Speaking of personalities, one suggestion from the North Korean team was to “censor Trump,” which meant preventing the U.S. president from sending out inflammatory Tweets during the negotiating process.

Carroll said looking at the situation through North Korean eyes helped him at least understand some of their concerns.

“You can see how hard it is to trust,” he said. “Even if you have allies, you can be destroyed.”

At one point, the North Korean representatives insisted on both keeping their nuclear weapons and having guarantees of peace.

Bunn said they were told: “No, no. That’s not how negotiation works.”

As they continued negotiating, a few things became clear: the U.N. and the United States wanted a North Korea without nukes, and North Korea wanted American troops out of South Korea. Sometimes things got a bit heated, to the point where Vukovic said the others thought he was going overboard.

“To me,” he said, “I didn’t feel I was going too crazy. I get crazier playing basketball.”

Vukovic also brought an interesting perspective to the exercise, since he is from Belgrade, Serbia, and has been in the United States for only a couple of years. No matter what agreements they might reach, he said, he didn’t believe North and South Korea would ever reunite peacefully.

The same was true of Serbia and the rest of the countries that were once united as Yugoslavia, he said.

Bunn added another perspective, having spent two years in the U.S. Army in South Korea. He said he was able to bring his technical knowledge of geography and military dispositions to bear in the negotiations.

The negotiations were almost over when North Korea threw out a wild-card proposal: international denuclearization.

As Bunn explained it, North Korea suddenly said, “ ‘What about world peace?’ It was an odd transition. We loved the idea. We hated who the idea was from.”

In the end, the parties forged an agreement under which the United States would remove its troops from South Korea, half of them within six months and the rest within two years. North Korea would agree to the destruction of all its nuclear weapons, though it would be allowed to build nuclear power plants for energy generation only.

The agreement also stipulated that all sanctions imposed on North Korea by the international community would be lifted. All other nations possessing nuclear weapons, meanwhile, would have to destroy half their weapons within five years and all of them within 10.

Lusse said such projects, while they might not bring about world peace, teach the students a lot about negotiations, including two things you can’t teach — that some people are simply more willing to take risks and that some people don’t like to negotiate, period.

“Most people don’t like to negotiate,” Lusse said. “Negotiation is a form of conflict.”

Lusse said his students also surprised him by being optimistic on nuclear disarmament — believing everyone will see the foolishness of nukes eventually — but rather pessimistic on a subject he hadn’t even considered: cyberattacks.

The students thought cyberattacks were a much more imminent, even inevitable threat, and a threat that no one and no country knows how to stop at this point.

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